A&M Biography

His father. a singer himself, hoped one day his son would sing with the Metropolitan Opera—and to that end saw to it that Gordon Payne had five years of intensive vocal training—but like so many gifted young musicians, he had a mind of his own and got hooked on rock ‘n’ roll.

Today. Gordon Payne is Waylon Jennings’ right-hand man as a guitarist, singer and harmonica player, and now he is a solo artist in his own right. There is nothing operatic about Gordon’s debut A&M album, but he sure knows how to deliver his Oklahoma born-and-bred rhythm & blues. His music is lusty, potent, hot and often slyly humorous, the kind of sound you will enjoy wrapping yourself up in.


“I knew 1 could do the opera thing if 1 wanted to,” Gordon reflects, “because 1 was one of the top tenors in Oklahoma, and I had scholarship offers. But it just did not get me off like rock ‘n’ roll did.

Along with about half of today’s artists, he got his start in a Baptist Church choir, in Shawnee, Oklahoma when he was six. By the time he graduated from high school, he was determined to become a rock musician. In Tulsa, he met J.J. Gale who became a good friend and a lasting influence in his career.

“I’d only been playing guitar for about three or four years, and 1 discovered the Tulsa R&B scene was made up of real pros who’d been playing with Delaine and Bonnie. It was right when Gale’s ‘After Midnight’ was beginning to break. So 1 got busy, learned a lot and just got hooked.” The strong impression he made on J.J. Gale would prove to be an invaluable assist in the future.

Alter a stint in the Army. Gordon returned to Tulsa where he backed up country acts for six months with the Don White Band. In 1973, with dreams of stardom in his head, he fled to L.A. “Tom Bourke (Waylon Jennings’ road manager) and 1 had everything we owned in my car and $80 in our pockets. We’d been in L.A. a day and 1 didn’t know how in the world 1 was going to survive because 1 didn’t know anybody.” Singing songs like “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry,” Gordon bounced around town from one talent show to the next—the first was at the Palomino—and won every one. “I did pretty well the first month, but once you’d won, you couldn’t go back and do it again, so by the second month 1 started going down.”

As luck, fate and J.J. Gale would have it, Gordon met up with the late Buddy Holly’s band, the Crickets. Drummer Jerry Allison (“Peggy Sue”/”That’ll Be the Day”) and bassist Joe Osborn (the Carpenters) befriended him and helped secure him gigs. Some months later, he came off the road in Nashville.

“I’d always wanted to play with Waylon Jennings," Gordon recalls. And camped out in a Nashville hotel, he got one of the most important phone calls of his life. At Gale’s prompting, it was Waylon himself asking Gordon to come to Las Vegas to audition. He got the job.

Shortly after joining the Waylors (Jennings’ band), J.J. Gale and producer Audie Ashworth started recording demos of songs Gordon had been writing since he was sixteen. Out of those sessions came the songs "Blackmail” and “Down On Love,” and the tracks were so polished and professional they appear on Gordon’s first album. The three friends decided to shoot for a record deal.

“I’d been trying to get with A&M for a year,” Gordon says. “I’d had four or five offers in the past, but I’d been real patient.” In the end, it was another stroke of fate that proved his patience was worthwhile. While meeting with Waylon Jennings to discuss the White Mansions album, an American Civil War epic written by Englishman Paul Kennerley, Jerry Moss, A&M chairman, heard a tape of his material.

‘Waylon was playing some of the stuff that the Waylors had done for Jerry. He heard my song called Oklahoma Posse’ and loved it. He said, ‘Have you got any more stuff on this guy?’ Tom Bourke said, ‘Ha ha. Have we got more for you?’ So we played him my album and he said ‘I’ll take it.”’

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AUDIGRAM Biography

In this credit-conscious business of show, it becomes habit to introduce “new” talent, with x-number of human assets. So maybe Waylon, Willie, and the boys should be mentioned as contemporaries of Gordon Payne.

With that out of the way, and a foot in the door, it seems American to continue with, a quote from his mother, “He never asked for anything but a musical instrument or a football.” Around Chickasha, Oklahoma, what else could one ask for? Twenty years with a guitar in a family that can still jerk a tear, when they join voices for ‘‘Old Rugged Cross” and ye shall receive”. Gordon never really needed Miz Anderson’s classical voice lessons. His football hands were; however, glad to accept some style from Don White and the latter-day Swing crowd who hold services at Cain’s Ballroom in Tulsa, the melting pot of Okie Music. Cain’s was Bob Wills’ proving ground for his Texas Swing style. Oklahoma has ‘always been the rag-picker State which can take Texas uncertainty, and turn it into oil or good music.

Gordon packed guitar and songs for a Korean tour of duty as a dogface, made it back home long enough to fry-up some burgers at Payne’s Paw-Paw Drive-in, and then lit out for a real hitch as one more picker in Hollywood. Leave it to an Okie singing Hank Williams to confuse the West Coast. Payne has

a “sucker-punch” tenor which can quiet the drunk at the end of the bar, seat waitresses working for tips, and win $100. Talent Contests, no contest. He made the rounds for fast-food bucks and counted the days ‘till Road Time, one way out of Smog City. He would just as soon not read about the credits between then and now. Gordon is home again, playing guitar and harmonica, and singing harmonies with Waylon and The Waylors. He does not mind print publicizing the first album of his compositions, a production he recently completed with Audie Ashworth and J.J. Cale.

Some people rarely doubt their future; others are dragged into it, and most never give it a great deal of thought. Gordon does not fool with doubt. He has his family, his music, and his future together. He earned everything he asked for.